For the first time in anyone’s memory, Catholics in the United States last weekend were unable to attend a public celebration of Mass. Members of other religious traditions were similarly prevented from attending services. The COVID-19 pandemic had already led to the closing of churches in hard-hit Italy weeks before, and as American health officials and elected leaders struggle to control the spread of the virus here, more and more churches, synagogues, mosques and temples are canceling the regular gatherings for worship.
For Catholics, the decision by bishops to suspend the public celebration of Mass is practically unheard of. Many Catholics, particularly those of the Baby Boom and older generations, grew up being taught that to deliberately miss Mass on a Sunday or holy day of obligation was a mortal sin. Though that rule doesn’t apply during a national health emergency such as this one, devout Catholics who rely on the grace of regularly receiving holy Communion, or the Eucharist, are lamenting the fact that they cannot now do so.
All of a sudden, Catholics in dioceses where public celebrations of the Mass have been suspended are finding themselves with a hole in their Sundays that was heretofore filled with ritual, carried out in communion with other people in their parish. Along with the prayers, Scripture readings, and reception of Communion, many Catholics were accustomed to weekly routines that included things like Sunday school for the kids, coffee hour with other families in the church hall, or a stop at the diner on the way home.
Catholics are now as “isolated” on Sundays from their parishes as many people are during the week, prevented from working in an office or going to the gym.
The last time churches were closed like this might have been in 1918, as the “Spanish flu” claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. What makes things different this time is the overwhelming availability of televised and live-streamed Masses, from local cathedrals or national shrines, or even from local parishes. Priests are still permitted—and indeed expected—to continue celebrating Mass, albeit privately. All a pastor needs to do to help keep his local flock connected in prayer is to position his cell phone and livestream the service on the parish Facebook page.
There are also multitudinous resources for those who wish to contemplate the day’s Scripture readings or other spiritual material, whether in books or online, alone or together with the family.
Read more at Catholic World Report